In her final confrontation with Stanley, Blanche Dubois challenges him with the essential idea about how we must not treat others: “Some things are not forgivable. Deliberate cruelty is not forgivable.” Has this conviction ever been stated more directly or clearly? Children understand these two sentences. Conversely, try explaining that we should love one another — it is complicated, difficult to both define and diagram, a notion filled with qualifiers, hesitations, exceptions, layers. Maybe the “Do Not’s” have always been easier to follow than the “Do’s”.
Nicole Ari Parker and Blair Underwood as Blanche and Stanley from Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire
The active sadism always perpetrated by those who hold absolute power over another is the sample of cruelty of which we are immediately aware — nothing strikes us so hard as the story or image of a helpless person or animal being willfully harmed, but the more banal forms of cruelty may be more revealing of our collective nature.
He was a big dog but while still young his owner had tied him to a stake on a three foot chain. He could never stand balanced on all four paws. He could never straighten his back legs, and thus they remain frozen into an angle of a permanent crouch today. For the year or so he was kept by this man; he was fed and never beaten and also never touched.* No rage. No sadism. Just a blankness, a barrenness of sympathy, a void.
This sordid, fleeting example represents an atom in the great heartless ocean of cruelty of which all forms of media and experience remind us daily, but for me it remains archetypal — what passive devils human beings can become. How easy it is to turn away! How simple an act to harden all feeling and to do so quickly. How damaging the catalog of lesser sins than thoughtful malice — laziness and deliberate blindness and ignorance and a refusal to see another, creature or person, as endowed with a capacity for pain and heartbreak identical to our own. How smooth and uncomplicated it can be to decide to act badly once, to tie the chain around the neck and walk away, and then every day ignore the continued presence of the misery caused by the action. This is a mystery to me, and a kind of terror as well, for what hubris it would require to say that such a void does not also reside somewhere inside me and everyone else out there equally engrossed in the clamor of their lives.
*He was rescued and adopted into a good home. He is intensely territorial however and one must be careful with him.